Beeches

Robert Frost has his birches, but I have . . .


BEECHES

In autumn
stiff leathery leaves 
the color of cinnamon
carpet the earth
excepting 
new-penny copper beeches
tenaciously clinging 
to their branches
fragile and strong as spider silk

They’ll still be there come spring
by then frail and pale
the color of sand
till erin sprigs push them 
unceremoniously 
to the ground 
to join their decaying cousins

		   November 2021

Holydays

twelfth month holy month—
Hanukkah, Rohatsu, Christmas, Yule
Kwanzaa, Posadas Navidenas, Ōmisoka
Advent and midnight Mass

longest night, shortest day
sun’s rebirth at winter solstice
brings winter with
longer, lambent, lucent days ahead

crèches, menorahs, kinaras
twinkling lights and silver bells
carols and dreidels
feasts of food and gifts 
mix with meditation, celebration
reverence and joy 
and sometimes uninvited grief

garlands of holly, ivy, and mistletoe 
deck the halls
pin᷉atas, parades and parties 
eggnog, fruitcake, cranberries
lefse, latkes, kugel
soba and mochi, challah and wassail
signify ritual and tradition

stockings and elves and Charlie Brown
The Nutcracker and gingerbread houses
candy canes, sugar plums, cookie swaps
and a partridge in a pear tree
mark the holiest of months

omega and alpha
ending and beginning
the most wonderful time of the year

		—Carole Coates, December 2021


Cousins singing carols at a holiday-time reunion

Going to Grandma’s

(Another writing workshop prompt response. This time we were challenged to write a descriptive poem evoking strong memory. We were prohibited from using adverbs.)

Small rock house nestled
in sinuous mountain bend
signals our nearness
to the place of my spirit
where my soul sings
at giggles like mountain brooks and
whiskered bearhugs scratching my face

Cuddled by layers 
of starburst quilts
through jet-black country night
awakened by wafting 
hot-biscuit aroma
like home should smell


Diamonds of dew glitter
in the green-apple morning
shadowed by blue granite spires
as old as time

Puffs of white float above
while draping branches of the ancient willow
like an antebellum ball gown
wait to enfold me


Dedicated to my inimitable giggling grandmother, Georgia Olive Stillwell Dillard.

Thanks Giving

Fleeting fall, first snow
quiet sleepy gray
November is
autumn’s final fling

A month almost forgotten
when robins and cedar waxwings
last birds of fall
forage leftover berries
before winter’s famine

Leathery leaves drift 
on windless days 
to carpet the earth
a portent of white drifts to come

November means feasting
contentment
grace and comfort
giving thanks 
for food, family, friends

A time of remembrance
for war’s end
and hope for peace

November is a state of mind

		--Carole Coates
		   November 2021 

Thirteen Ways

Every once in a while, I share something inspired by a prompt from one of my writing groups. Recently, we were challenged to compose a poem using the title of the Wallace Stevens poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Crow,” but inserting a noun other than crow (and writing in our own style). As usual, we were given five or ten minutes to complete the task. I composed a list poem using an image which has been close to my heart from my earliest days. (Sorry, I seem unable to set the poem to single space.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Mountain Brook

rushing water splashing over fallen boulders

minnows in shallows, trout in deeper water

salmon jumping upstream

sunbathers wading to a rocky slab

picnickers eating Vienna sausage and saltines midstream

mica-sprinkled sand under still, clear pools

glinting sunbeams

liquid life

sticks floating like tiny kayaks

soggy sneakers

frogs, algae, and water bugs

miniature lacy waterfalls

quiet water flowing over moss-covered stones

WINTIRFYLLITH

Now that October has come and gone–how did it happen so quickly?–here is a poem I wrote to try to capture the fullness of the tenth month of our calendar.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dscf5999.jpg
WINTIRFYLLITH* 


Golden leaf coins cascade
like heaven’s manna;
night skies sparkle
In October’s crisp air.

Sandals and shorts give way
to socks and sweats,
iced tea to hot cocoa,
salads to creamy soups.

October is county fairs
midway carnies competing for cash
Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds
cotton candy and caramel corn.

Shelves lined with glass jars
brim with summer’s vibrance
waiting to fill
winter-chilled tummies

October is bonfires,
football and camping
hotdogs and marshmallows
roasting on open flames

hootenannies and folksongs,
hand-holding lovers
blanketed on hayrides
under harvest moon;

pumpkin patches and corn mazes
sourwood honey, sweet-sour pomes
haunted house frights
and woolly worm races.

Chattering chipmunks
and scurrying squirrels
clamp tiny jaws 
’round walnuts and pecans.

Candy corn adorns 
store shelves;
ghostly creatures
embellish roofs and yards.

Smoky-sweet leaf scents 
crunched by boot-clad wanderers
perfume October air,
feed forest floors.


Costumed spirits and ghouls
crawl Halloween streets
crammed with spooky décor 
for tooth-decaying treats.

October is crow caws
craft fairs and beer fests
frosty mornings, hillside mists
a foggy Hunter’s Moon.

October is a mellow month
like cat paws and clover,
more night than day
readying us for winter’s shivers.

		--Carole Coates
		   October, 2021




*Wintirfyllith: Anglo-Saxon word for October meaning the fullness of winter, because the first full moon of winter comes in October.  



Found Poetry, Part VI

Each line of the first four poems is the title of a musical piece. I have put the titles together to form minimalist poetry, or as my cousin says, Almost Haiku. (For more found poetry, click here, here, here, and here.  Leave a note below to tell me what you think.

sea dreams
dancing on the water
on silent wings

 

incandescent voyage
water droplets
whisper of a stream
across the river

 

bathed in moonlight
on the edge of destiny
like smoke through a keyhole

 

tranquil dreams
in the stillness
deep peace
flowing into formlessness

 

 

The next poem was ‘found’ in a different way—personal observation at the edge of a field while watching a paragliding competition.

Swallows and swallowtails
graze the blossoms of chicory,
clover, and Queen Anne’s lace
in a wide meadow
beneath the cloud-dappled sky
where paragliders sail.

 

 

 

 

 

E-mail Subject Lines in a Pandemic Age

Has the subject matter of your e-mails changed as much as mine have? Here’s a fairly representative sampling of mine over the last few months, pretty  much in the order in which they arrived in my inbox by late May. Maybe it will bring a smile to your face in these strange times. 

smiling man looking at his phone leaning on concrete pillar

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Thirty-four days of pandemic
Rising to the challenge—together
We’re here to help local communities
While you’re home
Take their temperature from a safe distance

Freeze warning this weekend
Never again fear empty grocery shelves
Help support local restaurants
Our ongoing commitment to our community
Thermometers have just been upgraded

Checking back in with our valued customers
We are open
The right way to check for fever during the outbreak
Not-so-ordinary gift ideas
Scan for fever from a distance

Bring the birds home to roost
New and inspiring ways to experience joy
Thank you for supporting local
Monitor your health
This is hands-down the safest thermometer

Keeping you informed
The perfect solution to the perfect sleep
Build thirty pounds of muscle in six weeks
Purge your plastics
Thermometers available despite huge demand

Stores in your state open today
Much more than a pillow
How to be responsible during the pandemic
Remove all insects from your home
No touch, quick, very accurate body temperature

April was death; April was hope; April was cruel
The fastest way to detect a fever
We’re here for you
A heartfelt thanks to our customers
Thermometers have just been upgraded

More tips for learning, working, and connecting from home
Together we can make a difference
Want to practice self-care—we’ve got you
Updated airport guidelines
Infrared thermometers available this week

Bamboo toothbrushes
Red, white, and an extra 60% off
Doctors recommend that every household has an oximeter
Spring recipes for a fresh taste
Instant infrared thermometers are back

This is not about fear
The top indicator of illness: blood oxygen levels
Memorial Day sale starts today
I feel better already

Reopening daily screening at home for employees
Own the summer with hot grilling recipes
All-in-one health kit
Five steps to avoid financial crisis
Touchless soap dispenser 50% off
Check anyone’s fever from a distance

The nation is opening
You need this automatic soap dispenser
Keeping in touch
Cultivate your own herbal medicines
Public temperature screenings are coming soon

Getting clean air wherever you go
Monitor your health with this new Smartwatch
Airmoisturize can prevent illness
Laser thermometer for your medicine cabinet
New guidelines on fever screening

Low blood oxygen levels are a silent killer
Rapid shipping on thermometers
No-contact thermometers reduce transmission
We can send a thermometer to your door
Are you prepared for temperature checks?

woman wearing a face mask getting her temperature checkedPhoto by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Found Poetry, Part V

Poets.org describes found poetry as a literary collage  On occasion I like to play around with this genre that takes random words and phrases from newspaper articles and other prosaic sources and rearranges them into poetry.

Last year, I discovered another rich source for found poetry: titles of musical pieces from the SXM station I most often listen to while in the car. In these short poems, which my cousin calls  Almost Haiku, each line is the title of a musical piece.

In a room without lights
gray sky and bittersweet
invoke the elements
amid the stillness

mountain temple
bathed in moonlight
a welcome sight
on our journey

skipping stones
in tide pools
water diamonds

early autumn
island of woods
prism of life
in unknown country

quiet night
oceans of stars
moon meadow
timeless earth

For more of my Found Poetry click here, here, here, and here.  Leave a note below to tell me what you think.

This Wild and Precious Life

My Wednesday Writing Group is now meeting via email since we are sheltering in place. Our fearless leader’s recent prompt forced me into some deep soul searching. I didn’t know where this piece was going when I picked up my pen, but it turned into something meaningful for me, so meaningful that I’m opening myself up to you now.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Naturalized daffodils in the woods

I remember when our children were young and complained about not having enough time to do the things that really mattered. My go-to response was to remind them that however they spent their time was a demonstration of what truly mattered the most to them (which was often watching TV). Sometimes the response was tears, sometimes an eye roll or two, but it never seemed to change behavior. Maybe that’s because I was better at preaching than practicing. I was chiding myself every bit as much as I was chiding them.

I live in constant awe and envy of many women whose orbit I circle: women who travel to far off places to do good, putting themselves in who-knows-how-much of harm’s way, risking their health and safety. They give their time, their creativity, and their financial resources to help others. They think of others before themselves.

Like theirs, my heart aches for the plight of so many in this world, but that is often as much as I allow. I’m filled with compassion more than passion. I am not moved to activism. A lifetime ago it was different, but I burned my candle down to a nub. I got burned and burned out, and the flame has never reignited.

Still, I find myself looking around me and wondering how I can help, how I can make a difference. I looked close to home—it’s not an easy place to find an answer. I’m surrounded by an enclave of family—theirs, not mine. Much of what they do, all four generations of them, they do together: farming, canning, eating, errands, playing. They are self-contained; they take care of each other. They do not seem to need others, even in times of need.

“Where am I needed? What can I do?”

That was the question I asked myself when one of the older generation among these neighbors received a devastating cancer diagnosis. They certainly didn’t need me to bring food or offer trips to the doctor. I had just recently retired from my far more than  full-time job when it came to me—the one thing I now had that family members did not.

Time. I could visit. While their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are off at work and school, I could give my time.

I had my answer.

At this stage in my own life, it seems the things I have to offer are the small things. A smile, a word of encouragement, a thank you or a compliment. They are indeed small things, but as I look around, they are things the world seems much in need of right now. These things I can do, and I have learned to be on the alert. Not always, not enough, but so much more than when I was so overworked and overwhelmed that I seemed only to live inside myself.

These days I actively watch for opportunities to smile, to make a small gesture. “Is there something I can get for you from that top shelf?” to the older gentleman in his electric shopping cart. “May I help with that?” to the woman struggling to get her arm into the coat sleeve.

I step out of my comfort zone to say something pleasant to a person who seems vulnerable. It’s an indirect way of saying, “You’re not alone. Here is a safe place.” Sometimes I just watch. How is this clerk from Pakistan being treated by her customers? How are those Latino customers being treated by that cashier? I’m ready to step in, though I have no idea how.

I’ve also learned that things I think and say and write can occasionally make a difference. It’s the main reason I continue to write—in hopes that I will sometimes find some combination of words that will touch someone.

In these ever more uncertain times, I believe it is more important than it ever has been—in my lifetime, at least—to look for the small ways I can help improve someone else’s day. Maybe it’s an extra large tip when my server is having a tough time. Maybe it’s a conversation with the overworked cashier at the big box store. Maybe it’s popping a check in the mail to make up for the appointments I’ll miss with my hairdresser for the current stage of the coronavirus shutdown—with a little something extra added in. Maybe it’s looking for a sliver of silver lining someone’s clouds.

What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? I plan to plant a little ray of sunshine wherever I can. Carrie Newcomer sings, “Between here now and forever is so precious little time.” With my precious little time I will seek out tiny acts of kindness to perform, following Mother Teresa’s counsel to do small things with great love.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, 1992